January 31, 2005

Actively Pedestrian Hostile

The commercial/retail area along Rte. 30 in Framingham that borders Natick isn't just "not pedestrian friendly." It is actively pedestrian-hostile to the point of insanity.

There are literally hundreds of office workers within a 10-minute walk of Shoppers World, in buildings along Speen Street and the Leggat-McCall connector. Yet it is truly frightening to try to take that walk -- and not just because sidewalks haven't been cleared.

I discovered this today while trying to walk to the new Fidelity building from my office on Speen Street. It takes about 7 minutes to get there ... although crossing the huge swath of asphalt that is the intersection between the Legatt-McCall connector and Rte. 30 is downright scary. Then you get to the other side, where the Fidelity building is .... and there's NO CONVENIENT WAY FOR PEDESTRIANS TO GET TO THE BUILDING! Without snow, you can scramble across the grass and down a steep slope; but now, with all the snow, forget that. So, you've got to walk along the road leading to Shopper's World in order to get to the driveway into Fidelity ... even though there's NO SIDEWALK AT ALL, and zooming traffic.

WHY didn't any of our planners demand simple pedestrian access? And why is it impossible for me to take a 10-minute walk to Shoppers World on my lunch hour? I got as far as the Logan Express bus terminal, but trying to cross that next enormously busy intersection (5 or 6 lanes of traffic) without a crosswalk was too daunting.

SHAME. It is an ABSOLUTE SHAME that lack of requesting a few simple, inexpensive accommodations to foot traffic has prevented so many people from doing some lunchtime errands without their cars. Most of my co-workers take their cars to go just half a mile, because it really is scary and unpleasant trying to walk around there.

January 30, 2005

More Signs Of ‘Smart Growth’ In California

Even in the land of the car, people are starting to understand that auto-centric development -- to the total exclusion of walker-friendly environments -- at some point starts hurting quality of life. Suburban sprawl simply doesn't scale -- and as more areas get developed and sprawl moves ever further from jobs, such as has happened with heavier development around and beyond Rte. 495 in Mass. -- people get tired of sitting in traffic.

"There are signs that the smart-growth message is breaking through in [Coachella V]alley," observes the Desert Sun (Palm Springs). For instance, there are more projects in the works that combine residential and commercial elements to create self-contained communities.

"Increasingly, the aim of city planners and developers is to build areas where people live, shop and mingle without having to drive."

For example, Palm Desert "has zoned its long-undeveloped northern district, known as University Park, to include more high-density housing and pedestrian friendly commercial centers." And in the downtown area, "a mixed-use center - possibly including condos or apartments - is among several ideas being considered to replace the deteriorating Desert Fashion Plaza."

People in the article talk about the need for "a sense of place," where people can live, socialize and walk around as well as shop. Fighting traffic to drive in and out of soul-less strip malls isn't the lifestyle many people want anymore.

January 29, 2005

‘Where Crack Once Ruled, Construction Now Booms’

"From central Brooklyn to the South Bronx to the farthest corners of Staten Island, new homes in the city are being built in numbers not seen in a generation," the New York Times reports today.

New York City approved construction of more than 25,000 housing units last year -- the highest since 1972. And many of those new homes are being built "in neighborhoods best known 10 years ago for their brisk crack trade and overwhelming economic misery."

Why? The article gives some credit to city policies encouraging this, as well as "a confluence of factors, including the city's rising population - fueled in large part by immigrants who are willing to take a chance on underdeveloped areas that are no longer riddled with crime - as well as the city's continual housing shortage and protracted low mortgage rates."

So let's recap here. A community with a housing shortage and lots of immigrants -- sound familiar, anyone? -- is able to generate an environment for new housing for middle-class residents.

January 27, 2005

‘All The World’s A Car Park’

...or parking lot, to those of us who speak the American dialect of English. That's the headline in a Guardian Unlimited (U.K.) review of the film Chain, which examines "the homogenised interzones of privately owned public space - shopping malls, hotel complexes, theme parks - that multinational corporations have remade in their own global-branded image, letting regional colour fade to a concrete grey. "

Yet more proof that local planning officials have to be tough and demand designs that give us a sense of place, instead of soul-less sprawl.

Says the review: "The full power of Jem Cohen's feature film Chain doesn't hit until the closing credits, which reveal that the movie's anonymous landscape of chain stores and highway interchanges was shot in seven countries and 11 American states. . . .

"A hybrid of fiction and documentary, and a brilliantly discomfiting twist on the "location shoot", Chain is also something of a Ballardian horror story."

January 26, 2005

Here’s How To Revitalize A Downtown

There's an important article in today's Carlisle (Pa.) Sentinel about how to boost a tired downtown. The key is what consultants George E. Thomas and Susan Nigra Snyder call "the Madonna effect:" reinventing a commercial center every few years based on current consumer desires and trends.

"That means forgetting about images of a 1950s era downtown as the regional shopping and entertainment center where people went for just about everything, they say," the article explains. "Instead, Carlisle must transform itself into a destination for people seeking leisure activities. . . . One solution for revitalizing downtowns today is transforming the old 'Main Street' into 'Leisure Main Street.' Such centers offer unique niche stores and boutiques, restaurants and entertainment venues that can thrive in smaller storefront space, the consultants say."

Think how Waltham's Moody Street rejuvenated -- ethnic restaurants, appealing riverfront (including boat rides on the Charles), a movie theater and mixed-use housing, all with an appealing, walkable streetscape. It's a park-once, walk-to-multiple-destinations downtown.

Thanks to Cooltown Studios for the link. "We're shifting from a goods to services to an experience economy, so it's wise to let the go of the 'goods' and concentrate on the experiences," writes Neil at Cooltown Studios.

‘Sprawl Is Out, Infill Is In’

That's the headline today in the Durango (Colo.) Herald, reporting on a $15 million mixed-use project downtown.

"From Stilwell to Caver and now Crossroads Durango, infill is in. Land prices, gas prices and changing lifestyles are propelling what insiders say is a trend toward living and working in city centers," the article notes. "The four-story brick building will include 42 residential and office condos on three floors" and a bank will occupy most of the ground floor. There's a list of 50 potentially interested buyers, the developer said.

January 25, 2005

A California Community Seeks To Narrow Main Road, Widen Sidewalks

Yes, even in car-centric California, communities are beginning to understand that narrower roads, wider sidewalks and attractive landscaping are important to create a pedestrian-friendly streetscape -- and that today's commercial centers need to be appealing to walkers.

Livermore's City Council voted to impose a $5,000 fee on every new housing unit built in its downtown; a redevelopment agency will add additional money to beef up the area. "Some money will be used to narrow a stretch of First Street to two lanes, widen its sidewalks, install trees and trellises and put in a 'new landmark' fountain and community-gathering place at the southwest corner of First Street and South Livermore Avenue," according to the Contra Costa Times.

"A report from city consultants JR Structural Engineering said an improved downtown streetscape will provide the area's new residents with a better quality of life with close proximity to restaurants, shops, theaters, trails and a pedestrian-friendly and active downtown."

I'd say the same would apply to planned new housing in downtown Framingham, yes?

Sudbury/Framingham Rail Trail Possible

From the Framingham Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Committee:

Will there be a rail trail linking South Sudbury and Framingham? Two public meetings to address the feasibility of this potential project will be held: Wednesday, February 2nd, in Framingham, and Thursday, February 17th, in Sudbury. Both meetings will be from 7:00 to 9:00 PM. There will be a short presentation, followed by time for questions, suggestions, and comments.

The study area of the potential trail is a railroad right-of-way that extends about five miles from Sudbury, north of Route 20, to just north of Route 9 in Framingham. There has been no rail traffic on the line since 2000. The CSX Corporation owns the right-of-way.

The Central Transportation Planning Staff (CTPS) is doing the study at the request of the communities of Framingham and Sudbury. CTPS is staff to the Boston Metropolitan Planning Organization, sponsor of the study.

The February 2nd meeting will be in the Public Hearing Room in the Memorial Building, located at 150 Concord Street in Downtown Framingham. The February 17th meeting will be held in Lower Town Hall, 322 Concord Road, Sudbury Town Center (Route 27 @ Concord Road).

January 23, 2005

Parking Ban

I went out for a walk after the snow stopped and the sun (sort of) came out. Besides the snow piled up along the side of the roads and the lack of traffic, I was trying to figure out what felt so much different than usual, and why the roads seemed so much larger and more expansive -- when in fact they were narrower (100% of road width wasn't plowed).

It finally came to me -- the parking ban! At least I think Framingham had a parking ban, requiring all cars off the streets so roads could be plowed.

I know it's not feasible, but it sure would be great if there were no parked cars for pedestrians to have to walk around, on streets where there are no sidewalks....

View of road without parked cars
View of road without any parked cars

January 22, 2005

Why Arts Aren’t A Frill

Why am I so excited about the arrival of Amazing Things Arts Center in Saxonville? Because things like concerts and art shows are critical to creating a community where people want to be. It's another thing that gives a community its soul, that can help transform a few subdivisions and strip malls into a neighborhood with a sense of place.

Cool Town Studios talks about the importance of such amenities these days, if you want to attract creative, educated, talented young workers -- and more cutting-edge, entrepreneurial Baby Boomers -- who can be the sparkplug to a regional economy:

As we evolve from a service economy to an experience economy, entertainment and the arts become the unique selling point - from the dynamic (nightlife, music, recreation) to the everyday (residence, workplace).

Today's [creative people] expect more than a home and job, they want a neighborhood experience and a workplace performance. This 24-hour arts & entertainment experience (Experience A&E) in one's daily home and work life is the secret driving force behind what makes a CoolTown cool. Thus: Weave Experience A&E into the streets, buildings and public spaces, integrating it into the community’s routine.

Europe’s Radical Road Design For Car/Pedestrian Sharing

The New York Times today profiles Europe's radical traffic engineer Hans Monderman, and his theory that removing things like traffic signs, sidewalks and even lane markers will help vehicles and walkers better share community space. As I noted last month, there was an interesting Wired feature on Monderman's work.

According to today's NYTimes article, "His philosophy is simple, if counterintuitive.

"To make communities safer and more appealing, Mr. Monderman argues, you should first remove the traditional paraphernalia of their roads - the traffic lights and speed signs; the signs exhorting drivers to stop, slow down and merge; the center lines separating lanes from one another; even the speed bumps, speed-limit signs, bicycle lanes and pedestrian crossings. In his view, it is only when the road is made more dangerous, when drivers stop looking at signs and start looking at other people, that driving becomes safer. "

He does note that this philosophy isn't for everywhere, but only neighborhoods that meet certain criteria. You don't rip out lane markings, lights and sidewalks on a major roadway like Rte. 9 (although you also do have to redesign roads like Rte. 9 so there is any kind of space that a pedestrian wants to use), or in city centers.

"Highways, where the car is naturally king, are part of the 'traffic world' and another matter altogether. In Mr. Monderman's view, shared-space schemes thrive only in conjunction with well-organized, well-regulated highway systems." Which is why a number of European nations are investigating this, but few if any American municipalities.

January 20, 2005

Virginia Project Narrows Road For Better Pedestrian Environment

A main road in Blackburg, Va. will soon be narrowed in order to make a better downtown environment for walkers.

"The road’s alterations will include decreasing the width to add more or larger sidewalks, as well as benches, trees and pedestrian streetlights," according to an article in the Collegiate Times. "Though the road is currently four lanes, the planners are looking at narrowing the roadway, making it a slower traffic flow. 'We just want to get away from the widened road, which tends to increase speeds,' [state traffic engineer David] Clarke said."

Too bad planners here so rarely think about a pedestrian-friendly ambiance when doing road construction work. Instead, as we'ev done on Rte. 30, we usually add lanes, tack on sidewalks that no one would ever actually want to use unless they had a flat tire, and then consider the work done because those sidewalks meet code. Sigh.

Pedestrian-friendly means more than building sidewalks.

Who Voted How On McAuliffe Branch Library Project

The vote by Town Meeting member is now up on the town Web site:

Vote on purchasing land for the library

Vote on funding construction of the library

You can also see a MetroWest Daily News article that interviewed a few members who voted yes on the land purchase but no on financing the building.

Hopefully supporters will be able to convince enough Town Meeting members next time. It would be really unfortunate to give up $1.6 million in state funds for this project, when a larger branch is sorely needed and the existing building will likely need substantial capital investment anyway at some point. If you shave 25% off the size of the building, you're not going to save 25% of the cost -- but you WILL lose the state money that pays for 25% of the project as is. I don't see how this is financially beneficial to the town.

January 18, 2005

Another Try For The McAuliffe Branch Library Project

It's official: After winning approval to purchase land for a new branch library across from the current McAuliffe building, but falling just three votes short of approval to fund construction of a building, Library Trustees tonight voted to collect signatures to call a special Town Meeting to try again sometime before the spring annual Town Meeting.

I went to the Trustees meeting, and was happy to hear that they will consider a pedestrian walkway from Water Street to an existing side entrance to the building. I think this is important for the new building to add to a pedestrian-friendly streetscape in the business district. They also seemed receptive to my idea of creating a pedestrian walkway (as opposed to a sea of asphalt) from the new library parking lot to the Pinefield Shopping Center, so that center would be drawn into the business district instead of being set apart.

Here's what else I learned tonight.

January 17, 2005

‘Amazing’ Update

<a href="http://www.amazingthings.org"Amazing Things

The new Amazing Things Arts Center held a brief open house at its new location in the Pinefield Shopping Center Saturday, outlining an exciting vision of live concerts in its Saxonville home, to begin this spring.

It was pretty clear that a lot of work needs to be done in order to convert the one-time dry cleaner into a performing arts center with stage, seating for 90 people and office. However, there was an enthusiastic group ready to roll up their sleeves (as well as open their checkbooks) and pitch in!

More On The Difference Between Strip Malls And Lifestyle Centers

Westborough's Design Review Board members, seeking the look and feel of a traditional town center instead of a strip mall for a major redevelopment project, complained about a proposed plan thusly: They "fear the project as proposed looks too much like a mundane Shoppers World retail area and not enough like a quaint New England village they envision," notes today's MetroWest Daily News.

"Gorman Richardson Architects and Waterman Design Associates, the firms designing the project, told the board they too hope to achieve that type of atmosphere. They want to encourage people to spend time at the center instead of treating it like a regular shopping plaza where visitors go to and from their car to shop. "

Park once, then walk to many destinations -- enjoying a sense of place and a pedestrian-friendly streetscape, so shoppers want to stay and linger. Communities all around Framingham are getting this issue. So far, our town isn't. The "Golden Triangle" will become an increasingly less attractive regional shopping area compared with nearby retail centers, unless we understand what people want now, not what they wanted decades ago.

January 16, 2005

‘Lifestyle Centers’ vs. Conventional Malls

In places outside the Framingham/Natick "Golden Triangle," strip malls, enclosed malls and "big-box" chains are falling out of favor, replaced instead with pedestrian-friendly development that has more of the look and feel of a traditional town center.

CNN/Money recently ran a piece, Not a mall, it's a lifestyle center, explaining the difference:

It's got Ann Taylor, Pottery Barn, Williams-Sonoma and a Barnes & Noble, just like a regular suburban mall.

But take a closer look and you'll see leather lounge chairs in place of hard plastic benches, and natural sunshine instead of fluorescent tube lighting. Rather than a maze of escalators, you'll find tree-lined streets and beautifully designed stress-relieving fountains. There may even be a day-spa next to the Starbucks.

I've said it before but it bears repeating. Just like our local computer industry, where minicomputer companies hopped on a key trend and grabbed business away from old mainframe computer companies, only to miss the next key trend toward desktop computing; many of our local planners and developers took advantage of the trend toward malls and away from downtown business districts in the '60s and '70s, but are flat-out missing the next critically important trend, toward pedestrian-friendly developments with a sense of place.

"A sluggish environment for old-fashioned mall development is driving the trend" toward lifestyle centers, the CNN/Money piece notes. But apparently not in Natick (Natick Mall expansion) or Framingham (Lowe's), where what worked 35 years ago is good enough for us. Sigh.

Combining Sports & Shopping

"The Village at Granite Park is a commercial project unlike any Fresno has seen," the Fresno Bee reports. "Granite Park will combine about 20 acres of baseball, softball and soccer fields with dozens of shops and restaurants to create Fresno's first regional center combining two American passions -- sports and shopping. . . .

"It's a so-called 'lifestyle' center with an entertainment magnet that, for once, is not a movie theater. Instead, playing fields complement the shops."

Interesting idea worth watching. Drop the kids off at their soccer game, walk over to the mall, do some shopping, sit and have a coffee, walk over to pick them up.

January 14, 2005

Amazing Things Open House

From Michael Moran, executive director of the new Amazing Things Arts Center coming to Saxonville:

Please come see our new venue [to be] – up close and personal! This Saturday January 15 12:00 [noon] 55 Nicholas Rd. in the Pinefield shopping mall.

Natick Mall Expansion Plan Endangers Pedestrians

OK, so it's not just me (and Dick Miller), when we concluded that the Natick Mall expansion plan focused solely on auto traffic to the point of creating a hostile pedestrian environment (see earlier post).

"The latest Natick Mall expansion plan would endanger pedestrians and lead to more traffic headaches, the owner of two mall stores and others told the Planning Board Wednesday," the MetroWest Daily News reports (emphasis mine). "[T]he new phase 1 ... would force shoppers outside to travel between what for a time would be two separate malls. "

"We have a lot of pedestrian/vehicular conflict," said town landscape consultant Steve Cosmos, according to the article.

Pedestrian/vehicle conflict? That makes it sound like an argument. In fact it's a pedestrian-hostile design, which appears to have been created by developers that have given no regard to the needs or desires of pedestrians.

At a time when all important community retail trends are focusing on walkable, pedestrian-friendly "lifestyle centers," this is a major error on many levels -- safety, aesthetics, quality of life, and more.

January 13, 2005

New McAuliffe Branch Project: Not Dead Yet?

Apparently, it's possible to go ahead with the land purchase approved by Town Meeting last night, and then try again to see if Town Meeting members will support building construction, either at a new special TM or at a special within the regular spring Town Meeting. Gosh I hope so. After four long years of study, debate, grant application, and winning a rare state grant for a branch library, it would be heartbreaking to see this opportunity lost for at least the rest of the decade, and probably much more.

So many taxpaying citizens want their tax dollars to support this.

There's an important question about what we want Framingham to be. A downtown and a commercial strip along Rte. 9, where nothing else matters? Or a closely-knit collection of healthy, vibrant neighborhoods, with downtown at the heart?

Except for schools, there has been almost no town investment in facilities north of Rte. 9. And while I'm all in favor of neighborhood schools, the majority of town households have no school-age kids in public schools, so they don't add to day-to-day quality of life for the rest of us.

The ice skating arena (Loring), the main ballfield (Bowditch), the main library (program room for lectures, concerts, etc.), town adult education classes (Keefe Tech), public swimming facilities -- all are 01702. I don't begrudge downtown these facilities, but we pay taxes too. Don't non-school-age residents of other neighborhoods deserve any convenient access to public buildings for activities?

January 12, 2005

Very, Very Bad News For Framingham

In one of the most bizarre votes in recent memory, Framingham Town Meeting tonight narrowly passed an article to buy land for a new Christa McAuliffe branch library -- only to turn turn around and narrowly defeat an article that would appropriate money to actually build the library.

The move puts a more than $1 million state grant to help fund the project in deep jeopardy. As Library Director Tom Gilchrist said afterwards, while the project isn't dead, it's on life support. Unless another vote can be taken and certified on this before May 15, the grant is gone for at least 4 years.

Opponents ignored an outpouring of public support for the project, deciding that this investment in Saxonville -- creating this great anchor destination and community center -- wasn't worth spending our money on, even though HUNDREDS of taxpayers signed petitions supporting the project, and dozens showed up tonight. Instead, apparently, library patrons should all drive downtown if they need services. If we need to see a newspaper more than 2 weeks old, or want to sit and have a place to read, or to conduct research; if our students want a place to do their homework, they can all jump in their cars, clog the already overly congested north-south roads further, and try to find a place to park.

Hey, I've got an idea -- let's close every grocery store in town except for Super Stop & Shop in Saxonville, and have everyone who needs to buy food on the South Side drive up Rte. 126 and back. What's that, you say? People don't want to drive 12 miles roundtrip just to pick up a loaf of bread? Well, guess what? They don't want to have to cross town every time they want a reasonable level of library service either.

Two-thirds votes were needed to pass the articles. The first vote on buying the land was 101-45 in favor; I think the second was 94-51 in favor, but am not sure; once I saw that the yes votes fell under 97, I stopped writing. Actually, I thought it was 94-45, which would have been passed. I'm crushed.

Tonight's vote was a roll call. I'll be seeking a listing of who voted how, to link to or publish.

No more for tonight, as I'm so upset I'm likely to write some things I'll regret later. (Once you're Googled, it lives, cached, forever.) Suffice it to say that I think this was extraordinarily shortsighted. The way to keep Framingham "affordable" is NOT by delivering services so crappy in comparison to surrounding towns that nobody wants to buy here. We're not talking extravagence here. Somerville has TWO branch libraries with a smaller population than Framingham, and it's only 8 square miles large, compared to Framingham's 25 square miles. Offering neighborhood community libraries is a basic government service, that those of us who live in neighborhoods besides downtown have a right to have funded with our tax dollars. I don't begrudge the South Side our best library; all we were asking is to give us a good one.

Town Meeting Vote Tonight On New Branch Library

Framingham Special Town Meeting opens tonight, Wednesday, January 12, 7:30 p.m., and on the agenda is a vote to build a new McAuliffe branch library in Saxonville. A show of support down at Town Hall would be really useful!

If you're wondering why this project is worth supporting, may I humbly suggest you look at my article in the MetroWest Daily News.

Seriously, this is the right project, at the right time, in the right place, serving a lot of taxpaying citizens who very much want and need improved library services. Big bonus: the way the project is planned, it will give an enormous boost to the historic Saxonville village center.

Framingham residents, please support the new branch library!!!

January 8, 2005

Redesigning For Walkability

This is DEFINITELY worth a read: an interview with Walkable Communities founder Dan Burden, who explains how it's possible to design so that vehicles and pedestrians share space more effectively, benefiting everyone (Michigan Land Use Institute)

"It’s not that Mr. Burden dislikes cars," the article notes. "It’s just that he is certain that the quality of life improves if people don’t spend so much time sitting in them. . . .

"The answer to traffic congestion in most towns isn’t making roads wider, says Mr. Burden. Just the opposite: Roads need to be put on a 'diet.' Taking lanes away slows traffic but, surprisingly, the road then actually carries more vehicles more efficiently. Mr. Burden has other traffic remedies, such as shrinking intersections, constructing roundabouts, building boulevards with divided medians, and designing places where people can walk, bike, and ride public transit."

"What we are finding is the original streets, the original cores of our cities, pre-auto, were dynamite. It was the right pattern," Burden says.

There's a lot of interesting information in here about the projects Burden has worked on, such as "how to redesign a suburban mall into a true village, with real plazas, an appropriate series of stores that are the right size, right scale. " Oh, if only he'd been brought in for the Natick Mall expansion....

You can also see Burden's 12 points on what makes a walkable community, on his organization's Web site.

Arts Center Coming to Saxonville?

Amazing Things Art Center is planning a move to the Saxonville section of Framingham. Their current plans call for renting and renovating the old Saxonville Cleaner store in the Pinefield Shopping Center.

If this comes to pass, it's nice news indeed, and would certainly soften the blow of losing the neighborhood's premier art gallery, Artana, last year.

Amazing Things describes itself as a newly formed (last year) organization "established to provide a venue for visual and performing artists and to nurture a community of artists, arts supporters and arts appreciators in MetroWest Boston." They sponsor music and other community events.

If the new library branch is approved, this could create a really nice neighborhood cultural center here in north Framingham.

Update: "Ten months after his ouster from The Center for Arts in Natick, Michael Moran has struck a deal to move his new Amazing Things Arts Center out of Natick and into the Pinefield Mall in Saxonville," the MetroWest Daily News reports today. "Now Amazing Things will focus on a capital campaign to pay for converting the stark storefront to a 90-seat performing arts venue."

January 6, 2005

Update: Natick Mall Expansion

State officials have released a final environmental impact report on the Natick Mall expansion, reports Dick Miller, chair of the Natick Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, ruling that developers "should be diligently working with [Cochituate Rail Trail proponents] to find a mutually agreeable alternative to its proposed at-grade, activated, signal-protected crossing of Speen Street" to connect the trail and the mall.

That's good news, Dick says. "MEPA's attention to our various comments is much appreciated, and I've already told them so." You can see the full 7-page report on his Web site.

Unfortunately, there's not much we can about the disappointing layout of the mall expansion itself, which appears to favor cars over pedestrians at every turn, and completely ignores new trends in planning that favor outdoor, pedestrian friendly centers that try to give the feel of a town square instead of a strip mall.

Millis Eyes Library Expansion, More Walker-Friendly Downtown

"Town officials in Millis are moving forward with plans for a revitalized town center that would be anchored by a new police station and a new library almost four times the size of the current one," the Boston Globe reports today.

"Officials are scrambling to line up grant money and approval from voters for the revitalization project, which would also include changes to Main Street buildings with the goal of creating a lively and attractive shopping area. "

Unlike Framingham and Natick, where many officials still seem to favor the same tired car-first approach of plunking a building way back from the road amidst a sea-of-asphalt parking lot (like the Natick Mall expansion and plans for a Lowe's on Rte. 30), Millis officials are trying to urge local businesses to move up closer to the street, even offering town-owned land for parking.

"By moving parking to the rear of the buildings, officials are hoping to avoid the strip mall appearance that many towns nowadays are trying to shed," the article notes. Many, but not yet all.

As nearby towns make themselves more attractive destinations, those overseeing the "Golden Triangle" need to understand that we're just at much at risk today by ignoring consumer trends -- like new pedestrian-friendly "lifestyle centers" -- as urban downtowns were a generation ago when they ignored the rise of clean, convenient malls.

Remember how local minicomputer companies like Digital, Data General and Prime prospered by coming up with a new product to beat conventional mainframe computers .... only to lose out and fade away when the NEXT trend, the personal computer, came along? This is the threat we face if our planners think the car-centric solutions that worked in the '60s and '70s are our best approach in the 21st century.

Once-in-a-Generation Chance in Saxonville

It's not often that we have a chance to add a significant sense of place to an existing neighborhood of homes, stores and other businesses. But that's the exciting potential January 12 when Town Meeting votes on plans for a new branch library in Saxonville.

I outline my vision of what a new McAuliffe branch would bring to this area of Framingham in a MetroWest Daily News op-ed piece.

I would add here that, yes, I know that money's tight. But when is money "loose?" Decades ago, other taxpayers had the vision to invest in the future, and build a main library that generations could enjoy. Each generation owes a debt to those who went before us. We pay that forward by investing in improving our community for now and the future. Now it's our turn.

The library is all about bringing the magic of the printed word to us all, regardless of age or income. It is aptly named for Christa McAuliffe, who wanted to bring the magic of space to schoolchildren everywhere. I wouldn't have the courage to do what Christa McAuliffe did. But I can certainly pony up a few dollars a month to create a special place where people can go for books, magazines, newspapers, the Internet, research materials, programs and community activities.